In Defense of Hagel

The Washington Free Beacon is now reporting that former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel’s name is being eased out of consideration for the Secretary of Defense position.

The article quotes sources saying that Hagel’s hard stance against Israel has possibly fatally hurt his chances for the nomination.

That is rough for Hagel, but he no doubt was willing to take that chance with those positions. Politics is a tough world, and Hagel was willing to mix it up.

But the Free Beacon also had comments from former Senate staffers that made us shake our heads:

“Yes, Hagel has crazy positions on several key issues. Yes, Hagel has said things that are borderline anti-Semitism. Yes, Hagel wants to gut the Pentagon’s budget. But above all, he’s not a nice person and he’s bad to his staff,” said a senior Republican Senate aide who has close ties to former Hagel staffers.

“Hagel was known for turning over staff every few weeks—within a year’s time he could have an entirely new office because nobody wanted to work for him,” said the source. “You have to wonder how a man who couldn’t run a Senate office is going to be able to run an entire bureaucracy.”

Others familiar with Hagel’s 12 year tenure in the Senate said he routinely intimidated staff and experienced frequent turnover.

“Chuck Hagel may have been collegial to his Senate colleagues but he was the Cornhusker wears Prada to his staff, some of whom describe their former boss as perhaps the most paranoid and abusive in the Senate, one who would rifle through staffers desks and berate them for imagined disloyalty,” said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser on Iran and Iraq. “He might get away with that when it comes to staffers in their 20s, but that sort of personality is going to go over like a ton of bricks at the Pentagon.”

Multiple sources corroborated this view of Hagel.

“As a manager, he was angry, accusatory, petulant,” said one source familiar with his work on Capitol Hill. “He couldn’t keep his staff.”

“I remember him accusing one of his staffers of being ‘f—ing stupid’ to his face,” recalled the source who added that Hagel typically surrounded himself with those “who basically hate Republicans.”

Now we have heard a lot of things about Hagel: tough boss; demanding; high expectations.
But any of those things were ALWAYS followed up with notes that with staff he was gracious, appreciative and respectful.

We have never heard, from any of Hagel’s former staff, anything like what was mentioned above.

And we would follow up by saying that we don’t know of any Hagel staffers who “hate Republicans”. That is a really very goofy statement in and of itself and is not characteristic of the world on Capitol Hill anyway.

When this article came out today, a former Hagel staffer emailed us and had this to say:

Senator Hagel had a number of long-serving and very loyal employees in his Senate office, and overall treated us very well.

Contrary to the second-hand reports in the article, he acknowledged our good work and said “you did a helluva job today.” Senate staff work long and hard hours, and the Senator would treat us often to dinners and beers when we worked late.

He held as staff party every year where he picked up the tab personally each time. He attended our weddings and celebrated the birth of our children with gifts – he is an incredibly thoughtful person.

Bottom line is he appreciated his staff very much and took nothing for granted. The day I left his office I told him I bet I’d never have such a rewarding job, and it’s it true today.

You may disagree with Hagel’s political positions or his public actions in past years. But these comments about the way he treated staff are contrary to anything we have heard before.


  1. Oh really? says:

    There’s an unspoken rule among staffers that you don’t say anything negative about your boss to others. However, I was/am very good friends with a few Hagel staffers and heard stories just as described in the article. Those of us who worked for other members of the delegation (minus Fortenberry staffers because he was insane) were appalled at some of the things Hagel and Lou Ann said and did.

  2. Old Hagel Staffer says:

    I worked for Chuck Hagel for three years. To me, he was like a second father and one of the classiest gentlemen I have ever met. I am forever grateful for the opportunities he gave this Nebraskan, who had no political lineage or wealthy family members.

    Was he tough at times? You bet.

    Demanding? Definitely.

    But every staffer on Capitol Hill should know what they’re signing up for. They are there to do the nation’s business. That means long hours, late nights, and — yes — occasional butt chewings from the boss or his chief. (Don’t like it? There’s always an opening in state government.)

    The short-timers I knew in Senator Hagel’s office were either lazy or incompetent — or an undesirable combination of both. Many 20-somethings go to the Hill for the “glitz” and “glamour.” (D.C. is Hollywood for ugly people, you know.) Those are typically the first ones weeded out, voluntarily or via pink slip. The same was true in Hagel’s office, although the weeding out usually occurred sooner rather than later.

    Hagel paranoid? Never in my experience. He didn’t like Ben Nelson much — but from my inside sources, including friends on E. Ben’s staff, it was Sen. Nelson who was paranoid.

    Sen. Hagel knew I was a very conservative individual. He liked that. On issues of free enterprise, taxation, labor law, energy production and other domestic policy, Hagel was one of the most conservative votes in the Senate. And truth be told, many conservatives agreed with Sen. Hagel on Iraq.

    Years later, my political regard for Sen. Hagel has diminished. His endorsement of Bob Kerrey was simply too much. The old Senator Hagel I knew was as free-market and anti-big government as they come; he completely turned on his principles to gain political favor with team Obama. And in the end, it may all have been for naught.

    That said, Sen. Hagel will always be a gem of a human being in my book.

  3. RWP says:

    Interesting example of a gem of a human being; one who turns his principles 180° to curry favor with those in power.

    I know Hagel only from my interactions with him when I was a graduate chair trying to get stranded UNL students with visa problems into the US, particularly after 9/11 when for a while it was nearly impossible to get the State Department to do anything. Even though Hagel was on the Foreign Relations committee and on various Asian subcommittees, he and his staff were either unable or unwilling to help in the least (probably both). On the other hand, Doug Bereuter’s people were fantastic, and it was a significant blow to UNL when Bereuter retired in 2004.

    Just one more data point. Hagel is dead in the water anyway.

  4. says:

    Joe Jordan posted that Rabbi Aryeh Azriel supports Hagel, but anyone familiar with the good Rabbi knows his politics are way to the left (called Jon Christensen something not nice, a leader in OTOC, supports leftist politics and views, throws his support behind Democrats often, likes the whole interfaith, co-exist stuff)….

  5. Old Hagel Staffer says:


    It is possible to be both a wonderful human being and a waivering politician who is a little too ambitous for future political gain and influence. It does happen.

    Judging a U.S. senator based on your interactions with a 20-something staffer, and on one occassion, demonstrates an incredible amount of naivety — a common quality among UNL staff.

  6. Never Left the Neb says:

    I think people are confusing “the Boss” with “the Senator”. LouAnn was the boss, and she was a hardcore [redacted] who really did evolve to hate Republicans. Senator Hagel was always cordial. I used to wonder if she was just doing what he wanted her to do so he could keep his shiny reputation in tact.

    Not that it really matters any way. Hagel very definitely does not like being out of the limelight and has proven himself to be a political whore to the highest bidder. He and LouAnn now just have the same nickname, does it really matter who got their’s first?

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